Royal Dutch Shell is in for a run for its money in BC’s Sacred Headwaters. The struggle to “Get the (S)hell out of the Sacred Headwaters” should inspire people everywhere who care about justice, equity and sustainability.

Tahltan elders like Jenny Quock, Mabel Dennis and Lillian Moyer remind us of how to be courageous, while corporate media – and their advertisers – try to brainwash us with their message of consumerism and corporate supremacy.

It sometimes seems overwhelming; but amazing stories of local people standing up and putting their lives on the line in the name of a different vision exist and are multiplying.

Though these everyday heroes are largely absent from mainstream TV. they exist; and they are much more numerous then we are led to believe.

The situation in the Sacred Headwaters of northern BC serves as an example.

Tahltan elders (and a few committed youth) have forced the 2nd largest corporation in the world,Royal Dutch Shell, into a standoff. Local efforts, with a bit of help, have forced Shell to repeatedly back down.null

The campaign is growing in strength daily as new allies pledge their support, but it is grounded in the hearts of an extraordinary group of older women, mostly grandmothers, who live in Tahltanterritory 400 kilometres north of Terrace.

These women elders have pledged that they will fight to protect their Sacred Headwaters against all comers. And I believe they will win.

Despite the obvious disparities in power and money, Shell’s defeats are piling up.

Shell’s first defeat occurred back in 2005 when the Tahltan elders evicted Shell from the Sacred Headwaters, shutting down Shell’s plans to drill between 1,500 and 10,000 coalbed methane wells in the birthplace of three sacred salmon rivers-the Nass, Stikine and Skeena.

Two years later Shell continues to try to circumvent local opposition. In the last few weeks Shell indicated that it would ignore the wishes of the Tahltan leadership1 and try to move heavy road-fixing equipment into the Sacred Headwaters; this would be the first step towards renewing their drilling program.

Elected Tahltan representatives responded by telling Shell that, because of the sentiments of their communities, they ‘have no mandate’ to agree to Shell’s plans. Tahltan elders blockaded Shell’s initial attempts to move equipment in and Shell went off to court to get an injunction to arrest them.

While Shell has been rattling sabers at the Tahltan elders, a new alliance of NGOs has been organizing around them. Fourteen groups sent a letter to the CEO and Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell informing them that they “strongly oppose drilling for coalbed methane in the Sacred Headwaters and advise Shell to refrain from any activity in this area.”

Shell’s plans were scuttled again when the lawyer representing the protesters appeared in court and almost got Shell’s application for an injunction dismissed outright. The presiding judge adjourned the matter ordering Shell to provide 3 days notice before any subsequent hearing.  In response to the protesters request, the judge also ordered any subsequent hearings to be in Terrace or Prince Rupert so that interested Tahltan could attend.

In response to Shell’s efforts to drill and arrest grandmothers, Dogwood Initiative and several other NGOs ran an ad criticizing Shell in London’s Financial Times, the leading financial paper in Europe. This ad launched a series of actions in Europe that will embarrass Shell and raise the profile of their unsustainable operations in Canada.null

Back in BC Shell also faces increasing obstacles related to their permits to use and reconstruct the road access to their Sacred Headwaters drilling site.

Severe weather has caused numerous landslides along the access road that would be used by Shell. In order to fix the road Shell needs to conduct activities that could impact fish in adjacent waterways. Thus, Shell requires approvals from the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). DFO had indicated that Shell’s ‘in-stream’ work hadto be completed by August 31st (later extended to September 15th). The blockade of Tahltan elders forced Shell to miss these deadlines, and they are now scrambling to convince DFO to extend their window further or to approvean alternative plan.

Shell is trying to move quickly, because the weather could turn any day now.

Given the formidable nature of the Tahltan elders, and the growing list of regional, national, and international NGOs that have chosen to back them up, Shells’ aggressiveness is somewhat surprising. Granted, the company’s human rights record and disdain for local opposition (e.g. Nigeria, Ireland) is well-documented, but surely they didn’t think they could get away with a similar lack of respect in Tahltan territory? Perhaps their aggressiveness is more akin to that of a cornered dog.  

Regardless, it is clear that Shell is underestimating the tenacity and resourcefulness of their opposition.

That should change soon…

Dogwood Initiative will keep you informed as events develop.


1 Note: Shell’s coalbed methane project has received opposition from the hereditary elders from Iskut and Telegraph Creek, and from the Iskut Band Council. The Tahltan Central Council has yet to determine its position but acknowledges that Shell does not currently have a mandate to proceed with the project.